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breast cancer awareness charity shirts could actually be causing cancer

We all know the breast cancer awareness clothing and ribbons, and kitschy copy “save second base”. While we at virtue + vice fully support raising awareness for important causes like cancers, human rights, and saving the world, today we are challenging the way we as a society spread that awareness.  

This weeks blog post explores the irony of the gear companies sell us in order to show our breast cancer support.

isn’t it ironic...

the making of breast cancer awareness clothing exposes factory workers to known carcinogens and could even be increasing your own cancer risk?

What goes into making these charity shirts? You would be surprised by the level of toxins in clothing. Typically they are mass produced as quickly and cheaply as possible. Poisonous and carcinogenic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are doused on chemical resistant GMO cotton plants. According to The United Nations, it is estimated there about 200,000 acute poisoning DEATHS each year are caused by pesticide use, 99% of them occurring in developing countries. And, it has been found that several cancers, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, hormone disruption, developmental disorders, and sterility are all linked to the chemicals used. Many of these chemicals are actually banned in the West, but in India, farmers go barefoot and without face masks spraying the fields.

After the cotton is harvested, knit into fabric, and sewn into a shirt - toxic and carcinogenic substances are used to dye and print them.  This usually takes place in poorly ventilated dye and print houses. Not only are the people who work in the factories negatively affected, but also the communities where the toxic waste is released into local water sources.

Common dyes which were once thought to be safe, have recently been found to be harmful to the wearer, with the release of chemicals increasing when the clothing becomes wet, like when you are working out... so wearing that shirt to an awareness run/walk might not be the best idea, because your shirt to find a cure for cancer might actually be increasing your cancer odds.

breast cancer month makeup and cosmetics have known carcinogens in them?

It’s not just the fashion industry. The beauty industry is a culprit too. If you search the ingredients of many of the breast cancer awareness makeup products promoted in October you will see that most of them contain known carcinogens. A great app that breaks down what is in your beauty products and how harmful those ingredients are to you is Think Dirty. The next time you buy a beauty product that promotes a cancer charity, scan it into the app and see if they are part of the solution, or are really just perpetuating the problem.

So what can we do?

Change the way we participate.

Skip the $20 t-shirt and donate that $20 to the charity directly. More money ends up going to the cause that way, and you are not buying into toxic manufacturing systems that harm workers and you. You don't need the shirt to know you did something good; so skip it.

Make ethically and sustainably.

Support charities that make a quality product with organic cotton, low impacts dyes, and cruelty-free and noncarcinogenic components and ingredients and do not support toxins in clothing. Take to social media, and ask the charities if the breast cancer awareness clothing and accessories they are making contribute to positive change in every step of their supply chains.


Rhonda LaBatt

You make such a great case here- I’ve never given consideration to the ethics behind charity shirts before. Thanks for sharing!


What an informative blog. Thanks for raising awareness on this very important issue. Who knew that when we think we are helping, we are actually doing the opposite.

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